The Biden administration is facing criticism for its plan to implement the Trump administration’s proposal to deny foreign au pairs state and local worker protections. Many believe that this will further limit what few labor rights au pairs have and say that it is hurting a group that is typically young and mostly female.
Currently, au pairs are able to work in America as live-in childcare workers with a J-1 exchange visitor visa. A family will pay a fee, then an au pair will be able to live with them, working a maximum of 45 hours each week. They are only paid $4.35 per hour, with the justification being that the housing the au pairs receive makes up for the lackluster wages and it incentivizes families to hire them.
But there have long been complaints about the rampant exploitation that comes as a result of this dynamic, with au pairs saying that they have been threatened with deportation and have been subjected to physical, sexual, and financial abuse. There is very little the workers can do to fight back in this situation, as they are fully reliant on the family to survive financially and are not allowed to look for other work due to their specific visitor visa.
Certain states had begun to try and protect the rights of au pairs through better wages and access to worker protections, such as Massachusetts recently allowing au pairs to earn minimum wage. This was seen as a massive win for the labor rights of au pairs and some believed it could represent a larger shift in how foreign au pairs are treated in America.
But the State Department under Trump had begun work on a rule that would make it so that the visa program preempts any state or local laws created to protect the rights of au pairs, meaning they would still be subjected to the same conditions regardless of any state laws. Many hoped this would disappear with the election of Biden but his administration appears to be on board with this rule, which has been criticized by many as a major roadblock for workers’ rights.
Attorney David Seligman is the executive director of Towards Justice, said that it was “deeply confusing and concerning that the Biden administration would maintain really dangerous policies of the Trump administration.” For now, the proposed rule has not yet reached the White House’s regulatory review office but if it does, it could mean that thousands of full-time childcare workers in America will continue to receive far less than a livable wage for no justifiable reason.